City councilmembers voted Tuesday to spend the city’s full $1.23 million budget surplus, discussed proposed changes in city landmarks law and watched a tense confrontation between two of their colleagues over the issue of diversity in appointments, in addition to debating the proposed development project at the Ashby BART station.
While City Manager Phil Kamlarz had proposed spending less than $100,000 on immediate needs, Councilmember Darryl Moore said he wanted to be able to use the $292,643 in storm water system capital improvement funds earmarked in the city manager’s proposal to handle urgently needed repairs in his district.
Moore said West Berkeley experienced severe flooding problems during December storms that resulted in damage to homes and businesses.
Moore moved to authorize the spending, and was seconded by Betty Olds.
When it came to a vote, Kriss Worthington was the lone holdout, arguing that the council should hold funds in reserve.
Of the remainder, $300,000 will go to street repairs, $200,000 to traffic calming, $144,000 for parks, $42,000 for street and sidewalk cleaning machines, $44,5009 for disaster preparedness, $38,892 for hearing aids for a program for deaf children, $15,000 to fund emergency shelter beds for the homeless, $50,000 for a pedestrian and bike gate for BART, $82,000 to an alternative electric power program and $25,000 for special events.
One of the most controversial items on the council’s agenda was the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, and members heard the first of two presentations on proposed revisions.
Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Chair Jill Korte and former Commissioner Carrie Olson presented the case for a revised version drafted by their commission, while another draft has been offered by Planning Commission, which was represented by Vice Chair Helen Burke.
The revisions were ordered by the council to bring the ordinance into conformity with the state Permit Streamlining Act, which sets limits on the time that cities can take to process building applications.
But critics have used the revision in an effort to limit the scope of the ordinance, which developers say is used to hamper the construction of new projects.
In the ensuing discussion, it became clear that the council’s major concern was the structure of merit designation, one of two designations the LPC can bestow on historic structures.
That category is generally reserved from structures that have undergone modification in the years since construction but which remain as meaningful examples of an era, style or architect.
In her presentation, Korte stressed that preservation of landmarks was a policy spelled out in detail in the city’s General Plan, and she noted that other cities in California also have tiered designations like the structure of merit.
Burke said the Planning Commission favors reducing protections on structures of merit.
“My big problem is the problem of the structure of merit,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “There is just no doubt about it. The language (of the existing ordinance) says it doesn’t rise to the level of being a landmark, but another part gives it the same protections as a landmark. That is the biggest problem we face.”
The Planning Commission, backed by the mayor, has also called for new process called a Request for Determination that would allow a property owner to learn if a structure might be eligible for landmark status.
“It’s a great idea,” said the mayor.
One interesting moment came during a discussion about appeals of landmarking decisions, which can be overturned by the City Council.
During the council discussion Councilmembers Dona Spring and Kriss Worthington seemed to show the most sympathy for the LPC position.
“I have been very discouraged when I hear people said that a landmark is a vestige of the past that’s just getting in the way of progress.” said Worthington, who cautioned his colleagues about moving “too far and too fast.”
“The landmarks commission has gone a long way toward trying to compromise,” said Spring, who offered a strong defense of structures of merit. “They are very important to the flatlands, which have very few examples” of homes by famous architects who designed more expensive residences in the hills.
Tuesday night’s tensest moments came during the discussion of rival proposals calling for councilmembers to increase the diversity of their appointments to city boards and commissions.
Worthington, who sponsored the original resolution, used a survey conducted by UC Berkeley students of appointments by the current council to bolster his contention that a resolution is needed.
Gordon Wozniak said he wanted to correct “errors and distortions” because “the very important issue of diversity has been clouded by flawed studies” that indicated he had made no African American appointments.
“The last I checked my representative on the Police Review Commission was an African American,” Wozniak said, adding that he had also appointed five UCB students.
Wozniak then moved the adoption of compromise motions drafted by Linda Maio.
Wozniak said that he had interviewed the serving appointees of predecessor Polly Armstrong, and argued that his choice to keep them on was effectively an appointment.
As the discussion continued, an angry Worthington compared Wozniak to George W. Bush, declaring that when news media count the president’s Latino and African American appointees, they don’t count holdovers from the administration of Bill Clinton and declared that Wozniak had “an abysmal record”
At the end of the discussion Maio’s motions were unanimously approved and Worthington’s own version passed on a 5-3-1 vote, with the mayor, Wozniak and Olds voting no and Councilmember Laurie Capitelli abstaining.›